THE House of Assembly met on Tuesday to debate bills and move motions, including seeking permission for government to borrow funds to finance its operations. However, a public protest over the Desert Star Holdings Ltd. (DSH) project overshadowed the day’s proceedings.
Clad in tee shirts carrying the phrases “Save Our Sandy Beach” and “Stop Destruction – No DSH!”, the nearly 50 protestors made their presence felt and voices heard as they decried what they said was government’s “selling away of the land for nothing” as part of the proposed US$2.6 billion ‘Pearl of the Caribbean’ project earmarked for Beausejour, Vieux Fort.
Protesters said Saint Lucia’s patrimony was at stake and that the pros of the deal do not justify the losses citizens would incur should the mega-deal, contents of which have found its way into the public domain, go through.
One protestor, Bertrand Fevrier, who said he lives in the south, told The VOICE that he understood that lands would be leased to the developer at $1 per acre for a period of 99 years. That, he said, is counter-productive to the development being promised by the government.
“I’m not against development; I’m very much in support of development,” Fevrier said. “But when it comes to those conditions (under which the contract was signed), I’m not because it’s against us. The beaches are going, certain people are going and my relatives are going to lose their land in that area. For what?A dollar an acre? Come on, man!”
The protest, he said, will be a protracted one that covers the island spread: “The resistance is just starting today and we will continue to resist in the south and north in every form.”
Meanwhile Castries South MP, Dr. Ernest Hilaire, weighed in on the subject of the leaked 20-page document signed by Prime Minister Allen Chastanet and DSH Chairman Teo Ah Khing in June, saying that government’s response that the document being leaked was counter-productive is not enough.
“Certainly they have not addressed the concerns raised and it probably expresses in many ways the crisis that they face with this project,” Dr.Hilaire told the media outside Parliament on Tuesday. “But I think there’s still a lot more to come out – trust me. This is just the first set of information we have been provided with that has come out. I’m sure that over the next few days a lot more will be asked of the government to explain.”
Dr.Hilaire said that while Desert Star Holdings Ltd. had made a presentation of its plans to the last administration, the government at the time decided not to proceed with signing anything to advance any project put forward by the investor.
Said Dr.Hilaire:“We were in negotiations but it was a bad agreement and we would not have signed it in the form in which it was signed. So there’s nothing secret about it: you are in negotiations with another party, you include stakeholders and ask for their feedback. So there was nothing yet to be made public. This agreement was so bad (that) the negotiating team had not even sent it to Cabinet for consideration because at the level of the negotiation team, it was deemed to be a bad agreement. What this government has done was to sign it immediately.”
While the government has always maintained that the signing in June was basically a framework agreement to which amendments might be made, Dr.Hilaire said that based on the document that was leaked, something is amiss.
“This was not a memorandum of understanding (or) a letter of intent. It was an agreement signed which clearly says what the obligations of the government are. Now the government is saying that it still has to put details. But maybe you have to put details but those details will not be in contradiction to what is provided there (already),” Dr.Hilaire explained.
Leader of the Opposition, Phillip J. Pierre, downplayed the surfacing of the document which has since been the source of heavy debate, especially on social media, as to the confidentiality factor investors might question should they choose to invest in Saint Lucia.
“We behave as if these things are new,” Pierre said on Tuesday. “When the United Workers Party was in opposition, they said they had information and read a lot of documents. So why are we behaving as if this is all new?…If you don’t want documents to be leaked, you just do what’s right.”
Pierre said that the whistleblower phenomenon was a global reality and that government needs to be more upfront with citizens, especially when such large-scale projects have long-term implications.
“If you’re in government and you’re completely transparent and accountable, once things are not of national security (in nature), then there’s no problem.”
He continued: “If the government has nothing to hide, the government should bring the DSH agreement to the Parliament like the Hess agreement (was) and let the Parliament discuss it. That’s all.”
Since signing the agreement, the government has maintained that the project will provide much-needed jobs for Saint Lucians, especially in the south where high unemployment and years of economic stagnation have forced many people to either join the urban drift or migrate overseas.
For most of Tuesday’s session, the protestors kept up their public display of denouncing government’s plan to grant the DSH project the number of waivers and other benefits. However, they were also met with resistance from many people who felt the protest action was politically-motivated.
The war of words outside Parliament became so intense that House Speaker, Leonne Theodore-John, left the House and went into the street to caution protestors that should they not reduce the noise level, she would see to it that they were dispersed by the police.